Handicappers See State, Local Faces In A Gore Lineup

Should Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman make it to the White House, Gore would probably rely on congressional contacts to fill most of his cabinet slots, political analysts speculate. However, they say there are some state and local politicial leaders who could wind up in a Gore administration.

It would be no surprise, the experts say, if Democratic North Carolina Gov. James Hunt was tapped to be education secretary if the Gore-Lieberman team prevails in the November election. Hunt, 63, is retiring from office when his second term expires next January. He also served terms as governor from 1976-84 and was lieutenant governor from 1972-76.

Hunt has been hammering away at education reform since 1972, when he pushed to make universal kindergarten available to all North Carolina children. In February, Hunt and Gore co-hosted an education roundtable held in Raleigh.

North Carolina's chief executive has been Founding Chair of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, as well as chair of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. Within Democratic circles, it's said that Hunt believes that heading the U.S. Education Department would be a fitting capstone to his career.

Democratic California Gov. Gray Davis has been solidly in Gore's corner since last September. "Al Gore really understands California," Davis said at the time. "He's been here so much he might as well be a resident."

That kind of loyalty in a state with one-fifth of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency undoubtedly puts Davis, 57, in good stead with Gore and his handlers. The men have been friends for two decades. Last year, when Davis wanted more federal aid for California schools he picked up the phone and called Gore, who managed to come up with $129 million to reduce class sizes in the Golden State, according to USA Today .

If Gore carries California as he is favored to, Davis could probably have his pick of cabinet slots, but political analysts wonder if Davis would want to relinquish running a state with roughly 33 million people to become just another presidential adviser.

Judging from the way Davis stated early and often that he had no interest in serving as Gore's vice president, the answer would appear to be a resounding `no'.

Democratic Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend also has been mentioned as a potential Gore administration member. Among other things, the oldest grandchild of Joseph P. Kennedy would bring the marquee name of the country's best-known political dynasty to Gore's inner circle.

Don't look for that to happen, though. Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening acknowledged as much when asked by Stateline.org in July if Townsend had a shot of becoming Gore's vice presidential pick.

"I'm not sure what her long-term plans are, but I do know that in the short run she's going to be a great governor," Glendening replied.

Should Gore find himself president-elect in November, some of his victory margin will be attributable to vigorous African-American backing. So it's a safe bet a Gore administration would have at least one black cabinet member, if not more, the experts say.

A name frequently mentioned is that regard is Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, whose third and final term in office ends July 2003 and who has been cast as a possible HUD or Commerce head. Gore and Webb have a close relationship and Democratic insiders say Webb has no qualms about wanting to serve in an administrative capacity.

Publicly, however, he downplays such talk. "I'm certainly going to work as hard as I can to get Al Gore elected," Webb told The Associated Press in July. "(But) my plan is to complete this term as mayor in its entirety."

Political pundits had New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen on Gore's short list of vice presidential candidates. Now it's said she could be in a line for a cabinet job if the Democrats hang on to the presidency in the fall election. But Shaheen is running for re-election, and the smart money considers her a Gore cabinet possibility only if she fails to win ree-election. Continuing the New England connection, a longshot to head Health and Human Services is Democratic Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. A physician, Dean, 51, damned Gore with faint praise by waiting until late January to jump on the Gore bandwagon.

Dean, who is also up for reelection this fall, noted that he had difficulty deciding between Gore's health care proposals and those of Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Bradley. Still, Dean's medical degree would snag the attention of Gore's transition team.

So would the innovative health care policies Dean has pushed since becoming Vermont's top politician in 1991. "Dean has done the finest job of any governor in America in providing health care to people," Gore said in January.

A former head of the Democratic Governor's Association, Dean has shown interest in moving beyond Vermont to a national stage. In 1997 he mulled a presidential run and even met with Gore in Washington to discuss his ambition. Dean abandoned the notion of a national run after a poll indicated most Vermont residents wouldn't vote for him.